In May 2015, Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) programmed the state’s electronic highway signs with a simple safety message: “Changing lanes? Use yah blinkah.” Massachusetts Highway Administrator Frank De Paola said they did so because the traditional safety messages are “a little bit of white noise because we just repeat [them]…by changing the message and maybe using that creative spelling, we thought we’d get people’s attention and get people talking about it.” He was right—the slogan that poked fun at the regional dialect quickly went viral.
Massachusetts wasn’t the first to use this strategy—Iowa began displaying catchy messages two years ago. But, according to Governing, now even more states are following suit. This summer, Utah displayed a different catchy or clever message on its electronic signs every Monday. States, like Massachusetts and Illinois, are even holding contests for residents to come up with slogans for the signs. Although state transportation officials acknowledge that silly electronic message board slogans are unlikely to significantly reduce road deaths, they believe the slogans can be an important part of a broader strategy, as they get people talking and thinking about highway safety.
States tend to target these messages to five types of driver behaviors: distracted driving, sober driving, drowsy driving, seatbelt use, and speeding. Here’s a sampling of some of states’ creative slogans:
- “That seatbelt looks good on you”
- “Turn signals: the original instant message”
- “Get your head out of your apps”
- “Tailgating is for football, not for highways”
- “Work Zones: We don’t speed through your office”